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NCCR Mediality

Die Nationalen Forschungsschwerpunkte (NFS) sind ein Förderungsmittel des Schweizerischen Nationalfonds.
X. Display
X.5. Atmospheres in Film and Cinema – Media Oscillations

Based on the assumption that the atmospheric in film only becomes salient and noticeable as such when it is exposed as a ‘media gesture’, the project examines aesthetic, material, and pragmatic aspects of the atmospheric. It focuses on non-fiction forms in silent film and early sound film, and explores their composition, dissemination, and reception.
In order to outline the contemporary conceptions of ‘atmosphere’ or ‘mood’, especially as they were attributed to cinema (Lukács, Häfker, Epstein, Faure, Balász, Bloem d.J., Stindt), film-theoretical writings of the 1910s to 1930s are confronted with the philosophical, aesthetic, and sociological discourses of modernity (e.g. Simmel, Bergson, Bachelard, Lipps).
Aside from those moments in which the atmospheric makes its presence felt as a ‘media gesture’, it is precisely the ‘zero point’ of ostension which is interesting from a theoretical perspective – films create atmosphere, even when it remains inconspicuous. However, this unsteady state points beyond the binary shifting between the ostensive and the non-ostensive (as transparent image), because atmosphere has to be understood as an “ambiguous object” (Valéry) in two respects: oscillating between worldliness and the texture of the images, the atmospheric transposes that which is represented and perceived into another dimension, the immersive world of the screen. Whether it emphasises realism or form, this world is inscribed with a media difference from the beginning, as a transgression of everyday perception, which also shows the limits of what can be represented through media. On the other hand, the atmospheric oscillates in the context of reception: when cinematic spaces and historical situations collide, they affect the spectators in their cultural constitution, and shift the interpretive range of what is conveyed and conveyable through media.
Especially landscape shots, which shape the atmospheric in non-fiction film from early travel films (or travelogues) through expedition films to the German Kulturfilm of the 1930s and 40s, allow for multifaceted discussions regarding the media specificity of cinematographic images. Closely linked to the motif of travel, film develops a modern look at landscapes, a look that draws on earlier iconographies (painting, postcards), but also opens up new spaces through the filmic movement and the perception of movement brought about by the media change.
And while spectators conquer the world in the cinema, developing a new sense of distance and nearness which attributes exotic qualities even to the familiar, it is not only reporters and adventurers that travel to distant places – the films themselves acquire a geographic mobility and circulate as modern vernacular (Hansen). The specific contexts of exhibition and reception thus produce manifestly atmospheric moments that are not inherent in the films.